From Proposal to Final Product: Understanding the Research Process

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I am often contacted by clients who are interested in doing a research project, but who may not have much experience doing research (or, if they have some experience, it was far in the past). Because of this, often their first question is “What’s the process for doing a research project?”

Helping a client get from “I need to do some research” at the beginning to having the final report in hand involves several steps:

1) Initial Discussion

To begin, we start a series of discussions with our client, whether in person, over the phone, or through email, where our client gives us the details we need to draft a proposal. Typically, this will include information like:

  • Business objectives
  • Questions to be answered
  • Stimuli to be tested
  • Who needs to be interviewed
  • How difficult interviewees may be to find
  • Timing constraints
  • Cost constraints

Once our team has the information we need in hand, we can move the next step.

2) Research Proposal

Using the details we received in our initial discussion, we then develop a detailed proposal for our client. This document includes all the specifics of the project—methodology, sample size, sample composition, topics to ask questions about, deliverables, timing, and cost. This often leads to some back and forth between our team and our client. The client might need to ask clarifying questions, or the proposal may need to be revised as project needs get redefined.

3) Survey Development

Once our client has approved the final research proposal, we begin to write the actual survey, using the outlined in the proposal as a guide. A word document draft of the survey is sent to our client so they can review the survey, ask questions, or propose changes. This becomes an iterative process as we make changes based on our client’s feedback and begin the cycle again. For qualitative projects, there is a similar step where we develop a screener to recruit respondents and craft a discussion guide to be used.

4) Programming and Link Testing

Because the majority of quantitative studies are carried out online these days, once the survey is approved, it moves to programming. This creates a test link that shows exactly what respondents taking the survey will see. We test the link thoroughly to make sure it accurately reflects what was laid out in the word document. We also send the link to our client—we highly recommend that clients review the test link. Testing the link can help identify edits that were difficult to spot in the original document. How questions appear in a word document can sometimes differ from how they look once they’re programmed. Additionally, questions that will be used for complex analyses (like conjoin or maxdiff analyses) are hard to parse in a word document. Seeing them online helps to “bring them to life” and makes the flow of the survey easier to understand.

5) Fielding

Once the survey link has been approved, the study goes to field, and respondents start taking the survey. During this time, we monitor the progress being made and ensure that any sample quotas (i.e. demographic splits) are successfully being met.

At the same time, we begin report planning more fully. While we already have the framework for reporting based on client needs and stated in the research proposal, we also discuss with our client any additional topics and sub-groups they want included in the reports.

6) The Final Report (and other deliverables)

The research process winds down when we deliver the final report to our clients (some clients also like to receive the raw data from the study in excel or SPSS form as well). We often present the report to our clients and their teams in person or on a conference call.

However, this isn’t necessarily the end of the research process. Often, our clients have follow-up questions. They may also have requests for additional data runs or analyses. The project isn’t fully complete until all of our client’s questions have been answered. This might happen two weeks later or two years later (or sometimes even longer). In our experience, it isn’t unusual to get questions about studies that are months, if not years, old.

One Last Thing

Once we’ve provided the report, we also send our clients an invoice.  Here at TSC, we typically don’t invoice the project until it is complete.  Although, with very large projects , we sometimes invoice 50% at approval and 50% at completion.

From those initial conversations to the final report, our team makes sure to support our clients’ goals every step of the way. If you’d like a more in-depth discussion on any part of this article, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We’re always here to help you navigate a research project with confidence.